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FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE THE REV. JOSHUA RODRIGUEZ FEBRUARY 11, 2019 Making the Most of God’s Grace 1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11; ISAIAH 6:1-8 When I got to First Presbyterian Church in 2015 I learned that there is a trip that the college ministry supports, called the “Barnabas Trip.” The Barnabas trip is a trip where FPC sends someone to show up on the campus of those who have been part of our community in an effort to support, encourage and celebrate the students in another season of life. That particular semester I learned that Brandon Van Pernis and I would be going on the trip together. We prepared well for the trip and flew to Dallas to visit, TCU, SMU and Baylor. Brandon informed me that we would be getting a rental car upon our arrival, and shared with me about National Rent A Car’s “Emerald Club.” A for-free club you can join that allows you to show up on the car rental lot and select any car that is available. When we showed up to the car rental lot, we saw the typical cars you see, Hyundai, Chevy, Dodge, etc., and in the midst of those cars, like a rose amongst thorns, sat a 2015 Ford Mustang. Brandon and I paused, took a moment of silence, and he said, “I don’t want to over complicate this; we’re going to get that one right?” I responded, “Absolutely.” We rented the car and drove it the designated speed limit at every point in our trip. Nope. The drive from Dallas to Waco, Texas has about 90 miles of flat straight highway, and let me tell you, both Brandon and I set personal records for how fast we drove a car that day. Now, you may be asking, “Josh, were there students in the car?” Absolutely not. Others may be asking, “Why did you do that Josh? It’s so dangerous!” To which I would respond, you don’t drive a 2015 ford Mustang on a straight and flat Texas highway the speed limit. You just don’t do it! When you get the chance to drive a car like that, you make the most of it! Josh, that is a silly story. Why are you sharing that with us this morning? When I told Brandon I was going to share this he said, “The only reason I can assume is that you are going to make the point that God allows us to be stupid.” Nope. I share this story because I think Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1-11 in a similar sentiment to how I felt about driving that car. You have to make the most of it! The question Paul is asking of the Corinthian Church is, “Are you making the most of the grace of God?” Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is coming to a close, but before he finishes, he needs to remind the church of something. Thus far he has already addressed several issues in his letter to them: Unity, the foolishness and power of the cross, Christ crucified, wisdom of God, sins of the community, sexual immorality, lawsuits amongst believers, marriage, food sacrificed to idols, apostleship, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the body of Christ, love and orderly worship . Now, he needs to remind them of one last thing. And make no mistake, despite the issues and harshness of parts of his letter, the things he is totally disgusted, disappointed, and probably even confused by, he addresses these people as family, Paul names them, brothers and sisters. Despite the difficulties the community is having, Paul is still their brother. Paul reminds them of the good news in which he proclaimed to them. There are four canonical Gospels in our Bible, and certainly we have plenty of writings of Paul, but in this short paragraph we get the summary of the Gospel according to Paul. This is the Gospel that the church in Corinth received. He says, you didn’t just receive it, but you stand in it. They didn’t just receive and stand in it, you are being saved through it. But the issue here at hand, the situation that warranted a reminder towards the end of this letter, is that the community may not be holding firm to the Gospel. In fact, they have a loose grip on the Gospel. Why have they loosened their grip? Two reasons: (1) The issues amongst this community are many and they are complicated. A quick overview of the letter lets us know this church has a lot to work through. We know when things get complicated we can be tempted to walk away as opposed to work through them. (2) More time has passed than the first Christians expected before Jesus’ return. Later in the text, verse 6, Paul says that Jesus appeared to five hundred disciples, and they are still alive, but some have died. It’s hard to know when Paul would have visited Corinth, and it’s hard to know how long the community has lasted since his first visit, but it is fairly reasonable to assume that more time has passed than Paul thought there would be between his visits and Christ’s return. As he mentions at other times in his writings, Paul believes Jesus will return, and soon, and so those who came to faith in his missionary journeys are experiencing an amount of time passing they had not expected. They are tired, the issues are many and they are complicated, and their grip has loosened. How many of us have grown tired? How many of us have loosened our grip on the Gospel that we once received, stand within, the Gospel in which we have experienced salvation? Some time has passed, and the issues in our midst have gotten complicated, and instead of looking to the Gospel, considering the faithful course, we have loosened our grip. Life has gotten hard. Trials have come that we didn’t expect, and in our grief, we have loosened our grip. Sins that we never would have imagined for ourselves have become our norm, and we have loosened our grip. The marriage failed, the job is gone, the anger is always present, the work is never finished, the greed and envy just continue to grow, and we have loosened our grip. William Barclay writes about this, saying, “The Gospel was something in which the Corinthians stood. The very first function of the good news is to give a person stability. In a slippery world it kept the Corinthians on their feet. In a tempting world it gave them resistance power. In a hurting world it enabled them to endure a broken heart or an agonized body and not to give in… That is precisely what the Gospel does.” The good news is that though the church in Corinth has loosened its grip upon the Gospel, the Gospel has a firm and steady hand upon them. The church is tired, and Paul pulls no punches when he says, “Unless you believed in vain….” That is to say that their belief was without purpose or power. That is the question implicit within Paul’s words, “Is your faith without purpose or power?” Paul spends time telling them exactly what he has shared with them already, from the very beginning. He says, “Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. Paul says that Jesus appeared to Cephas, that is Peter. Jesus appeared to the twelve. Jesus appeared to five hundred of our family members. Jesus appeared to James. Jesus appeared to the apostles. Last of all, Jesus appeared to me. William Barclay wrote of Jesus appearing to Paul, “To Paul it was the most precious thing in the world that Jesus had appeared also to him.” In verse 8 the text reads, “Last of all, as to one untimely born….” The word that Paul uses here to describe himself in the Greek is ektroma. The story of Paul is a familiar story to some of us. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was good at his job. He was bright. He was set as one with authority and great promise for his life to come. Then, he met Jesus. The Greek word Paul uses, ektroma, to describe himself doesn’t capture any of his accolades. It doesn’t capture any of his achievements. It doesn’t capture any of his successes. That Greek word Paul uses to describe himself is the same word used to name a stillborn child. Pardon the graphic language, I don’t use it lightly, and neither did Paul. The point Paul is making is that before he met Jesus, great as his life was according to his culture, he knows that he was dead. The Gospel that Paul has shared with these people isn’t one that made a bad person good. The Gospel that Paul shares with these people is one that makes dead people alive! Paul tells them, it is by the grace of God I am what I am. What is Paul? Paul is an apostle of Jesus. Paul is an individual sent by God into the world to proclaim the good news. Paul then says, “And his grace toward me has not been in vain.” That is to say, God’s grace toward Paul is not without power or purpose. God’s grace towards Paul has power and purpose. Paul has asked the people, “Has your belief been in vain?” Paul tells them, God’s grace towards me is with purpose and power, because I was dead, but now I am alive. Implicit then is that God’s grace towards the church in Corinth is with purpose and power, that though they were dead, they are alive The good news for us today is that when we have a loose grip on the Gospel; the Gospel has a firm and steady hand upon us. The good news for us today is that God’s grace towards First Presbyterian Church of Nashville is with purpose and power. The Gospel is something in which we stand. The very first function of the Gospel is to give us stability. In a slippery world, the Gospel keeps us on our feet. In a temping world, it gives us resistance power. In a hurting world, it enables us to endure a broken heart or an agonized body, and not give in. The Gospel keeps us on our feet. In November of 2018 I had the opportunity to go to England as a participant in an international cohort through Princeton Theological Seminary focused on theology and innovation. There are five Brits, one Scot, and six Americans all coming together to study God and new ways to do ministry. We showed up, we learned about each other’s contexts, we participated in a weekend conference, and as our time was wrapping up I had one day left in London. So of course, I did what most Americans do, I took a bunch of selfies! I woke up early as I could, my flight wasn’t until 8:00 p.m. or so, and I got a coffee and a traditional English breakfast, and began my way around the city. I saw Westminster Abbey. I saw Big Ben. I saw the London Eye. I saw the Bridge. I saw Buckingham Palace. I saw the guards. Everywhere I went, selfie, selfie, selfie. Now, you may wonder, why is he telling us about his time in London. That is because before I went to college I had never been east of Ohio or west of Illinois. I had never imagined I’d cross the pond in this world. Because before I went to college I lived in a two bedroom trailer with about six people and everyone dealt with substance abuse issues. Before I went to college I was pretty certain that my future was filled with drug addictions and incarceration. I feel confident in my assessment because both of my brothers who I grew up with sit this morning in a prison cell. Before I believed that Jesus Christ died for my sins, that he was buried, that he was raised, and before he appeared to me, I was dead. But with the purpose and power of his grace I found myself in England as a participant in an international cohort through Princeton Theological Seminary focused on theology and innovation. FPC, are you tired? Have you loosened you grip on the Gospel? Has your faith been without purpose and power? Are you making the most of God’s grace in your life? Though you may be tired, and though you may have loosened your grip, FPC, the good news is that God’s grace towards you is not without purpose and power, and I urge you brothers and sisters, make the most of the Gospel that is holding onto you, because the promise of God is that the Gospel will make the most of you. Amen? Amen.
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